RALEIGH – Employers across the 15-county Research Triangle region expect to add as many as 37,000 jobs over the next three years, but companies face challenges in finding workers with the needed skills, according to a new study.

According to “Triangle Talent: Understanding the Skills Gap,” executives cited numerous concerns about recruiting workers. Still, enthusiasm is high.

“Businesses expect to grow!” the authors declare, with high tech and life science firms leading the way followed closely by construction.

Among the hundreds of firms that participated in the report, 74 percent expect to grow, led by:

  • Information technology, software and analytics (87 percent)
  • Life sciences and bioscience (85 percent)
  • Construction and skilled trades (84 percent)

At least 22,000 and as many as 36,700 jobs are expected to be added.

RTI International, which is based in RTP, and Wake County Economic Development along with the City of Raleigh and the Capital Area Workforce Development Board unveiled the findings of the study in Raleigh on Tuesday morning.

Employment challenges

As of December 2018, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported that just over 1.1 million people were employed in the combined Raleigh-Cary-Durham-Chapel Hill metro statistical area with a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.

Yet the difficulty of finding workers casts a shadow over the optimism.

“Skills gaps exist due to several reasons, including supply [and] demand, interest, skills, education offerings, and professional experience,” the study notes.

Skilled labor shortage

For example, searches for skilled laborers in various trades can be difficult. Some comments cited in the study reflect those worries:

  • “Need more skilled trades and education about career opportunities in construction”
  • “There are not enough skilled Project Managers who know construction and want to work in the field anymore. Most have changed fields due to the economic downturn.”
  • “Just that there aren’t enough folks learning the trades. It’s extremely hard finding quality plumbers.”

Overall, key concerns include:

  • Companies struggle to find workers with initiative, critical thinking, self-discipline.
  • There is an interest in apprenticeships, but a need for leadership.
  • Construction and hospitality express hiring challenges.

Are apprenticeships the answer?

  • 39 percent cited apprenticeships and internships as a valuable tool to expose students to industry,
  • 22 percent expressed interest in hiring apprentices as a tool for training the future workforce
  • 15 percent planned to use them to strengthen the existing workforce. Construction and manufacturing companies were more likely to value apprenticeships.
STEM talent rates best

Executives told the researchers that they valued most highly the quality of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, assigning a 3.4 score out of 5 on what the authors call the “talent pipeline” of workers.

Overall, however, the talent pool was rated at 3.14 out of 5 with construction, logistics and manufacturing scoring lowest at 2.7 and below.

Employers are looking most (49 percent) for workers with a college degree. But demand for workers with professional certifications, community college training and apprenticeships is also expected to grow.

Hundreds of firms participated in the survey,

RTI International researchers, Sara Lawrence and Michael Hogan, headed up the study.